Sport Performance – Inconsistent Motivation and How to Overcome It

Inconsistent results are often a consequence of inconsistent motivation making motivation a key factor in performance and results. It might seem obvious that motivation drives us away from pain and towards pleasure. The typical cause of inconsistent motivation is motivation driven at some level by the need to avoid something emotionally painful. This is referred to as ‘Away From’ Motivation. Avoiding things like failure, being not good enough, poverty, loneliness, being judged, etc. are a few examples I commonly discover when working with clients although the list is varied and endless.

There are several reasons why Away From Motivation is inconsistent and leads to inconsistent results. And more importantly, how would you know where Away From Motivation is causing you to be inconsistent? Here’s a simple example to illustrate typical patterns and symptoms:

During his early years an athlete has repeated experience of training hard and on occasions failing to deliver the results wanted and needed. Each time he fails he experiences someone important to him (e.g. his athletics coach or family member) being disappointed in his results and suggesting he could train harder.

Our athlete is frustrated and disappointed by his failure and angry and hurt by the reaction of people close to him. Through repetition of these events (actual and playing it over in his mind) he unconsciously associates anger, frustration, hurt and disappointment with failure. He fears experiencing this unpleasant emotional mix again and again, which results in a Fear of Failure.

Whenever he becomes aware of the possibility of failure (stimulus) the fear (response) kicks in to motivate action so that he avoids failure and the underlying emotional mix. He is motivated Away From failure and this becomes a significant component of his overall motivation to improve his results in athletics. what is intrinsic motivation 

Since he avoids fully experiencing the underlying emotional mix, it remains outside of conscious awareness fuelling his Fear of Failure from the deeper unconscious level. What he experiences is creating ideas for goals which on the surface may appear to be success orientated, but their actual primary purpose is to avoid being a failure and experiencing the underlying emotions. He is rarely if ever consciously aware of this connection with his goals or its significance.

So How is Away From Motivation a Problem?

  • His primary motivation to be successful in athletics is to not ‘be a failure’, so motivation to be successful is low when he is not failing. To be a successful competitor he needs to be highly motivated when he is being successful to push up to the next level.
  • To be motivated he has to experience the unpleasantness of failure, which feels bad and can lead to burnout and other emotional issues.
  • His Fear of Failure prevents him really going for it in athletics (and other areas of life) in case he fails. He therefore never reaches his potential.
  • His Fear of Failure may act as a catalyst for other negative thoughts e.g. self-doubt, indecision, lack of confidence, etc. which then have their own effect on his motivation, actions and results.


All in all he has a few successes but his performance is inconsistent. His emotions are on a roller coaster between fear (plus potentially anger, frustration, disappointment and hurt) and relief and he sometimes feels bad about his involvement in the sport. Ultimately he will fail to reach his potential in his sport, make his reasons and excuses and turn to something else… where he will experience a similar pattern as a result of this Away From Motivation.